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Alaves seeks new coach after Fernandez resigns

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MADRID (AP) Spanish club Alaves says coach Abelardo Fernandez has resigned.

Alaves says it was Fernandez’s decision to leave after leading the modest Basque Country team to an 11th-place finish in the Spanish league.

[ MORE: La Liga results, stats

Fernandez said in a news conference on Monday the club did everything it could to try to keep him, but he felt he “would not be at 100 percent next season” and decided it was best to resign.

Fernandez joined Alaves at the end of 2017, helping the team finish 14th in the league last season, comfortably escaping relegation.

The club had a surprising start to this season, being as high as second in the standings and remaining in the fight for the final Champions League place until about 10 rounds to go.

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La Liga: Real Madrid pulls within two of 2nd place Atletico

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While Barcelona sits atop the La Liga table with a comfortable six point cushion, the race below them continues to rage on. On Sunday, the waters were muddied a bit thanks to a 3-0 Real Betis win at Atletico Madrid, allowing their cross-town rivals to gain ground.

Real Madrid topped Alaves 1-0 at home, pulling them to within two points of Atletico in second place. All the way back in ninth in early November, Madrid has hit its stride and rocketed back up the table with a stretch of eight wins in their past 11 league matches.

Karim Benzema was the opening goalscorer on Sunday, as his 30th minute tap-in capped off a simple overlap between Sergio Reguilon and Alvaro Odriozola that somehow picked apart the Alaves right flank. Reguilon crossed it for Benzema streaking in at the back post and he poked in his ninth league goal of the season and third in the last two games.

The 31-year-old Frenchman has come under fire this season for his goal scoring form without Cristiano Ronaldo to draw defenders, but has responded with a stretch of five goals in his last seven games. Other popular Madrid players have received criticism as well, and while Gareth Bale has maintained his starting place, others like Marcelo and Isco have dropped to the bench. Young players like Regulion, Odriozola, and Vinicius Jr have come in and taken their spots in the lineup with improved play, helping Madrid right the ship.

18-year-old Vinicius Jr finished things off 10 minutes from time on the break as a cross from Marco Asensio passed Benzema but fell to Vinicius at the far post for a powerful low finish. Substitute Mariano added the icing on the cake with a 91st minute with a diving header, redirecting Odriozola’s cross into the top-right corner.

Meanwhile, Atletico was held by Betis in Alvaro Morata’s debut for the club, but they could only put one of their 13 shots on frame, and the wasteful afternoon was punished by Sergio Canales from the penalty spot just past the hour mark. Morata had the team’s only shot on target, coming in the 11th minute. From that point on, the visitors were wasteful, and when Filipe Luis handled the ball in the area, that allowed Canales to step up and bury his sixth goal of the season, and third in the last four games.

With Barcelona at the top on 50 points, the Atletico loss leaves them six points back in second on 44. Real Madrid’s win, meanwhile, moved them to within two of their rivals, on 42 points in third place.

Elsewhere, Espanyol came back from 2-0 down on the road at Villareal to secure a 2-2 draw. A Daniele Bonera own-goal in the 75th minute opened the door, and Roberto Rosales scored six minutes later to secure the draw. The result is a tragic one for Villareal, who is battling relegation and has not won since November 25, unable to turn five draws in that span into anything more meaningful. The point Sunday saw them up to 19 on the season, but it didn’t help them gain much ground on 18th placed Rayo Vallecano or 17th placed Leganes both on 23 points.

And finally, Eibar pummeled Girona 3-0 behind a brace from 34-year-old Brazilian striker Charles who has six goals in his last six league games.

La Liga: Alaves remain unbeaten at home, rise to 4th

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Alaves extended its impressive form in the Spanish league by fighting back to beat Valencia 2-1 on Saturday, remaining undefeated through all nine games at home.

The small team from the northern Basque Country climbed past Real Madrid and into fourth place at six points behind leader Barcelona. Alaves also established its best record for the first half of a league with 31 points after 19 rounds.

“You have to appreciate what this team has done,” said Alaves coach Abelardo Fernandez, who took over the team last season and turned it around. “Alaves deserves a monument for what these players have done through the first half of the season. I am proud to be their coach.”

Valencia dominated possession with its flashier attack, but Alaves got its goals by outmuscling rivals to balls in the area.

Dani Parejo gave Valencia the lead in the 14th minute at Mendizorroza Stadium where the midfielder bent a free kick over the defensive barrier.

Alaves forward Borja Baston fought off Mouctar Diakhaby to win a ball from a corner kick and level in the 21st.

Midfielder Tomas Pina added to the fightback in first-half injury time when he scrambled home a ball after Alaves pinned Valencia in its area and came close to scoring twice.

“We know that, while not superior, we can compete with anybody at home,” Pina said. “We feel how much our fans push us. That is one of our strengths. We hope that this harmony with our supporters continues.”

Valencia was left in 11th place as its disappointing season continues for a side that finished fourth last season.

“We knew they were good at set-pieces and that they had scored six or seven goals that way this season, but we let our concentration down and committed two errors,” said Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno, who missed one of Valencia’s few chances to get a second goal.

La Liga: Alaves go 2nd after beating Real Madrid

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 8? ]

Alaves 1-0 Real Madrid

Not a lot is going right at Real Madrid these days. A quick rundown of Los Blancos‘ current struggles: four games without scoring a goal (all competitions – 409 minutes in total); four games without a win; three losses in their last four games. It’s the first time the club has gone four games without scoring a goal since 1985.

Fortunately for Julen Lopetegui’s side, Barcelona have also gone into a similar slide of late, leaving the two sides level on 14 points — though Barca now have a game in hand.

Saturday’s shocking defeat away to Alaves saw Madrid fall to third place in the league table, where they’re now looking up at the tiny Basque Country side. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Co., appear destined for a disappointing scoreless draw as the final whistle drew nearer and nearer. Then came the 95th minute, when Manu Garcia headed home from the doorstep to beat the capital giants for the first time in 18 years.

Lopetegui was already under a bit of pressure prior to Saturday’s defeat, but he insists he isn’t worried about his status as Madrid manager. Not even three months into his tenure, this would require an unfathomably quick trigger finger, even by Real Madrid’s impressive standards.

“We coaches are exposed to these situations, but we just think about how we can keep working,” he said. “We are in October. It is not a good situation, but 10 days ago it was.”

Elsewhere in La Liga

Girona 2-3 Eibar
Getafe 0-1 Levante
Leganes 1-0 Rayo Vallecano

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Real Valladolid vs. Huesca — 6 a.m. ET
Atletico Madrid vs. Real Betis — 10:15 a.m. ET
Espaynol vs. Villarreal — 12:30 p.m. ET
Sevilla vs. Celta Vigo — 12:30 p.m. ET
Valencia vs. Barcelona — 2:45 p.m. ET

Alaves sacks manager De Biasi with side bottom in La Liga

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While Barcelona and Valencia continue to tango at the top of Spain’s first division, Alaves’ outlook is one of a much different tone.

[ MORE: Toronto’s Greg Vanney named MLS Coach of the Year ]

The La Liga bottom-dwellers sacked manager Gianni de Biasi on Monday after the club went 3-0-5 in his eight matches in charge this season.

De Biasi took over Alaves in September after previous manager Luis Zubeldía lasted a little over one month on the job to start the 2017/18 La Liga campaign.

Overall, Alaves has gone through five managers since 2015, including Mauricio Pellegrino — who currently manages Premier League side Southampton.

The Babazorros currently sit dead last in La Liga on six points through the club’s opening 13 matches, scoring just seven goals in that stretch.